Sunday, March 25, 2012

Moose Chili

There really is no place in the world like Alaska, and my first two weekends in March were a testament to the beauty and wonder of my home state.  It's a place where men are men, women (almost!) win the Iditarod, and moose meat makes the best chili.

It doesn't get much better than the first weekend in March, which ushers the start of the Iditarod sled dog race.  I traveled out to a friend's cabin in Willow, about an hour north of Anchorage, with my girl's Marika and Erica to watch the start of Iditarod 2012.  Because Mother Nature LOVES a good dog sled race, she blessed us with incredible weather.  It was idyllic--bluebird skies and 20 degrees-- a perfect way to enjoy The Last Great Race! We gathered on Long Lake with friends and family to watch the mushers charge by, smiles on their faces, to begin one of the most grueling races left on Earth. 

Thousands of fellow Alaskans lined the trail along the first few miles of the race. Friends and family out to enjoy the gorgeous weather, good food and drink, and to cheer exuberantly as each musher raced by.  We rooted as wildly for household names like veterans Martin Buser and DeeDee Jonrowe as we did for the lesser known mushers whose only goal was to finish.

Here's a shot of Marika slapping a high five to her idol, Lance Mackey!

Marika was popular along the trail, dressed in her favorite down Skhoop skirt.  Even DeeDee Jonrowe shouted to her from her sled, "Love your skirt!"

Another notable highlight: when a musher shouted to the three of us ladies, "Hey, it's Charlie's Angels!" 

This was the look on my face for most of the day.  Dog mushing and sunshine (and my new blue earflap hat) makes me happy.

As if the Iditarod wasn't enough, the following weekend I spent time cross-country skiing in Talkeetna, Alaska, just an hour and a half (and a world away) outside Anchorage.  Talkeetna is perhaps one of the quirkiest and friendliest of little Alaskan towns.  They treat you like family here.  Especially at the Talkeetna Roadhouse, which has some of the tastiest food in all of Alaska (I’m still dreaming about the buttery patty melt pasty and the delicious sourdough pancakes!) 

Erica and I take a break from skiing for a pretty pic

There is something to be said for a place that has a backdrop like this.  Hello, McKinley! 

With all of these uniquely Alaskan adventures, I think I must have been in a nostalgic mood when I decided to whip up a batch of moose chili.  This quintessential Alaskan meal finds itself on almost every family's table during the cold winter months.  Moose meat is delicious and lean, and if you're lucky enough to get one during the season (as all Alaskan's know: never make plans during the first three weeks of September) then you can enjoy a huge steaming pot of this in no time.  If you didn't get your own moose this season, substitute lean ground beef or just do what I do: barter with promises of dinner and homemade raspberry jam.  Works like a charm!

Now, I realize this is a long list of ingredients.  But trust me when I say that this one is worth it!  Once you prep all the veggies, it goes pretty quickly. I love chili, and I love it more when it's hearty and healthy. This recipe is the best I've come up with.  Full of veggies, spices, and a good glug of Alaskan White beer.  The brown sugar rounds out the flavor beautifully.  And it freezes great, too! 

Moose Chili

2 T. olive oil
1 1b. ground moose meat (or lean ground beef)
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
3 c. mushrooms (about 6-8), stems removed and chopped
2 small carrots, scrubbed and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 T. chili powder, divided
1 1/2 T. cumin
3/4 t. ground chipotle (more for spicier, less for mild)
salt, to taste
2-14.5 oz. cans diced tomatoes
2 c. vegetable juice
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
2-15.5 oz. cans chili hot beans
1- 15 oz. can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1- 15 oz. can butter beans, drained and rinsed
1 rounded teaspoon dried oregano
1 rounded teaspoon dried basil
1 c. Alaskan White or Alaskan Amber beer
1-7 oz. can green chilies
1 1/2 T. brown sugar

Optional toppings:
chopped onion
shredded cheddar cheese
chopped cilantro
sour cream

Prep the veggies first.  Add olive oil to a large dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add the ground moose meat, 1 tablespoon of chili powder and a good pinch of salt (about 1 teaspoon).  Brown the moose meat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to break up the meat.

Add all of the veggies and cook until they have softened, about 20-25 minutes, stirring often.  Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring often so that it doesn’t burn.  Turn down to medium low and simmer for an hour or so, or until chili thickens to your liking.  Top with chopped onions, shreds of cheddar cheese, sour cream, and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro.

Enjoy! xo H

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mushroom Risotto: Creating Mushroom Lovers the World Over

I'm back from my Palm Springs vacation do-over!  If you saw my post in December, you know that it wasn't exactly the vacation of my dreams.  It was, in fact, the vacation of my nightmares. However, I'm happy to report that this vacation was: drug addict / locksmith / hotel hopping / police / alarm installation / back injury free!  My friend Amanda met me at our family's condo and we did California's Coachella Valley properly, which involves (in no particular ranking order):
A coolified Joshua Tree 

(1) Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park (our one redeeming "nature" day, so we didn't feel guilty about the following activities).

(2) SERIOUS outlet shopping.

(3) Picking fruit from trees literally right outside our door and juicing them to make delicious drinks (which may or may not have contained vodka).

(4) Poolside lounging with appropriate beverage (see #3). 

I really did my broken December self proud.

I swung through Oregon on my way home to spend time with my sister Holly, and made a yummy mushroom risotto in my dream kitchen (that sadly my Dad built for Holly by mistake.  We do look an awful lot alike).  I had just made a huge batch of it a couple weeks ago to some pretty rave reviews (my girl Kate's 13-year old stepson had 3 helpings- THE stamp of approval).

Unfortunately, there are a lot of mushroom haters out there.  I pity them.  They really don't know what they're missing. I mean, rarely does someone like a raw mushroom.  Because raw mushrooms kinda suck.  They taste weird, and they're spongy.  But when you coax the flavor out of them, and add some olive oil, a little love and a good dash of Parmesan cheese...well, that's a dish worth sharing.

I think the key to success with this dish is the use of dried porcini mushrooms.  The amount of flavor they add to any dish is incredible, both the rehydrated mushrooms and the porcini "liquid gold" that is created after soaking them.  I put about a cup of them (you don't have to be exact) in a 2-cup glass measuring dish, and fill it with the hottest tap water possible.  Let this sit for about 30-40 minutes while you start prepping the onions and mushrooms.

Bring 8 cups of chicken stock to a simmer on the back of the stove (I usually bring it to a boil, and then turn it down to medium-low).  In the meantime, add a few turns of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Cook the onion for 5-7 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes before adding the mushrooms, herbs, and a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  It's best to season any food, but especially a risotto, in layers.  So I add salt and pepper at a couple different stages.

Drain the porcinis, pressing out as much of the liquid as possible while reserving the porcini liquid to add to the hot stock pot.  Add the drained porcinis to the mushroom extravaganza. The mushrooms take a little while to cook, but be patient. You want them to cook down until they lose their liquid and start to turn golden.  Sometimes I'll drizzle in a little more olive oil if the pan looks dry (mushrooms are sponges!)  It takes about 15-20 minutes to do it properly.  Then add the rice and cook it for a couple minutes until it is well-coated and turns slightly opaque, making sure to season it with salt and pepper again. Pour in the white wine and cook until the liquid has evaporated.

Time to add a generous ladle full of hot stock (or about 1 cup at a time).  Wait until the rice has drunk up all the liquid before adding another ladle full.  It takes about 3-4 minutes at a time, but it's well worth the patience!

Repeat this process until most of the stock is used up (you may not use all of it) and the rice is firm and creamy, but not mushy.  Taste it several times while you're cooking it and you'll see what I mean.

When the rice seems perfect, turn off the heat and add the Parmesan, peas, and a dollop of butter (the restaurant secret!)  Check for seasoning one last time and add salt and pepper if necessary (cheese is salty, so I usually add that first before checking the seasoning one last time).  Serve it immediately!  You'll make a lover out of any mushroom hater.  And if you don't, then you're dealing with a lost cause and I don't have any advice for those.  I'm a lawyer, not a therapist.

Mushroom Risotto

Adapted from Tyler Florence

3 T (or more) olive oil
1 onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
1 lb. assorted mushrooms (I used cremini, button, and Oregon chanterelles)
leaves from 3 fresh thyme sprigs
2 T. chopped parsley
2 bay leaves
2 c. Arborio rice
1/2 c. dry white wine (I used Savignon Blanc)
8 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you don't eat animals)
1 c. frozen peas, thawed under cool running water
1 T. butter
1/2 freshly grated Parmesan cheese
(chopped parsley, for garnish)

To rehydrate the porcini mushrooms, put them in a 2 cup glass measuring dish and fill with the hottest tap water.  Let them soak for 30-40 minutes.  In the meantime, bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a large pot.  Place a large, deep pot or skillet over medium heat and drizzle with the olive oil.  Add the onion and saute till transluscent, about 5-7 minutes.  Add the chopped garlic and saute for an additional 1-2 minutes.  Add mushrooms, herbs, a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Saute until the mushrooms lose their liquid and turn golden, about 15-20 minutes.  Once the porcinis are rehydrated, drain and squeeze out all excess liquid and add the porcinis to the pot of mushrooms, while adding the reserved porcini liquid to the pot of simmering chicken stock.

Add the rice to the mushrooms and cook for a couple minutes.  Season the rice with salt & pepper.  Pour in the wine and stir until the liquid has evaporated.  Add a generous ladle full of stock to the rice (about 1 cup) and stir occassionally the liquid is absorbed.  It takes about 3-4 minutes.  Repeat this process several times until the rice is slighly firm but creamy- you may not need to use all of the stock.  When the rice has finished drinking up the liquid, turn off the heat and add the butter, peas, and Parmesan cheese.  Serve immediately- risotto doesn't like to hang around!

Enjoy! xo H